if you can’t hear yourself think, you can’t think

on al jazeera, i land mid-video on a documentary called songs of war
created by christopher cerf (composer music intended to help children learn how to read and write for sesame street) who discovered that u.s. intelligence services used these songs (amongst others by metallica, ac/dc, marilyn manson, eminem, bruce springsteen and rage against the machine) to torture detainees at guantanamo bay and abu ghraib

in baghdad, he asks u.s. soldiers about the music they listen to
they wire it in on their ipods/in their tanks and their humvees
they play it on their missions
as long as i have my music with me, i’m content, i’m peaceful one soldier says
and when asked what the music is he says from his position lounging in a tank
this is the song we listen to the most
let the bodies hit the floor
(by drowning pool)

(by we, i imagine he means him and the rest of the crew in the tank)
this is the one
when we travel and when we were killing the enemy… going through war coming up here into iraq, into baghdad… it was just fitting for the job we were doing

another soldier in a dusty street, sand-colored tank in the background says:
slayer: 1. angel of death 2. raining blood
they’re just two real aggressive heavy metal songs i like and they keep me motivated

a third says
i like fast heavy metal out in this place. it helps me get through the day.

and another:
it’s the ultimate rush, cuz you know, you’re going in to the fight to begin with, and you got a good song playing in the background – and that gets you real fired up

music by drowning pool was also some of the music used to torture detainees

drowning pool, when asked why they think the soldiers like their music say
it gets them pumped up/on their toes/on their edge
i think partly, they don’t understand the implications and partly, they don’t care
or partly they do care, but don’t think it would be correct to say outright that they support a certain kind of torture and killing and why

halfway through, i review the title of the video documentary
songs of war
(and laugh at how i thought this was going to be about folk songs from the 60’s)

and i think about brett in a white shirt walking down the sidewalk towards 30th in a bright patch of sun which isn’t just a patch because it is everywhere
while we waited at the crosswalk he talked about music being his gasoline
i’m listening to it all the time, even if it’s just in my head
he said

linking it to getting work done

2004, in fallujah (iraq war), the u.s. military began to employ mobile speaker systems to break the resistance of iraqi fighters

compact, powerful sound cannons
the narrator says
reaches volumes that can burst ear drums, cause nausea and can even make people unconscious

vahan simidian who builds speakers for the military says
it’s a powered loudspeaker that works at very long distances with perfect clarity. that is not what a normal loudspeaker does.

in about two years, we will change the way wars are fought we will change the way aggression is created to subdue somebody and it prolly will be one of the last efforts we make because we figure by that time, that device should end the need to kill.

which makes me think of this kate bush song
and though the video depicts this as some 1980’s sci-fi future that will never come to exist beyond fantasy
moazzam begg tells his experience as a former detainee at guantanamo bay and bagram:

the music was so loud that everybody in the block could hear it, nobody could sleep

it’s not just music to listen to at your leisure and control the sound, it is in addition to being tied, to being shackled, to being beaten, tortured, and confined

in addition to all this, you’re being subjected to, not just ordinary music, but exteremely loud music
if i was to subject you to it, even just for a few minetes, i’m pretty certain you’d be saying ‘i can’t hear myself think’
if you can’t hear yourself think, you can’t think
if you can’t think, you have no control of your senses,
if you have no control of your senses, for all intents and purposes, a completely vegetative person
and that’s the point, to put somebody in an almost vegetative state where they are simply ready to say anything, comply with anything only so that the music can be turned down

(moazzam begg was arrested in pakistan in 2001 as an alleged terrorist
begg was a british citizen who went to pakistan to build a school for girls. theĀ  u.s. authorities accused him of working for al qaeda and the taliban andĀ  kept him prisoner for over three years. he was interrogated on over 300 occasions and eventually released without charge.)

it is beyond my understanding how begg is capable of sitting calmly to speak about the effects of one form of the torture he endured
not to say he should be forever damaged
but there is no way i could imagine myself
talking about the torturers who yelled insults at me
who stripped me naked
who kicked me while i laid on the ground
who punched me when i was up
in a place that i never knew i would make it out alive
where i was being punished for something i had never done
without ripping apart the video documentary camera in my face
or igniting in rage